Platform: PlayStation 3
Review Date: 12/24/15
"In-Births" and "Voids" are meeting on this "Hollow Night" to do battle and make sure that the Paradox doesn't open the doors to the Abyss at the altar of Night and Day. Yeah, it doesn't make a damn bit of sense to me, either. "Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late" is a fighting game collaboration between French-Bread ("Melty Blood") and Arc System Works ("Guilty Gear"), with one of the most nonsensical titles I've ever seen. The core story revolves around a teenage boy name Hyde who is given a powerful sword called "The Insulator" by a mysterious female warrior named Linne. An evil organization called Amnesia wants the Insulator, and its leader is a power-mad woman named Hilda who wants to destroy the world. Various players from different organizations are trying to stop Hilda in an alternate dimension known as the Hollow Night, which only comes about every so often. Or something like that. It doesn't really matter, as we all know how much the Japanese love their fighting games to have complex narratives associated with them.
The game features sixteen playable characters, including the usual assortment of dimwitted schoolgirls, scrawny emo-boys, monsters, and robots. Unfortunately, there are only seven females on the roster, which is a bit disappointing, but it's still a better ratio than most contemporary fighting games. My favorite character is Eltnum (Sion Eltnam Atlasia), who shows up as a guest character from the "Melty Blood" series. Her story is hilarious and she spends most of her time breaking the fourth wall with lengthy in-jokes about her life in the "Melty Blood" universe and how she began as a main character and was eventually relegated to being a comic relief character over the last decade. She also frets over the legal issues surrounding her moonlighting in a different game and longs for a new "Melty Blood" game to be developed. Unfortunately, the original characters aren't very interesting, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would probably be the air-headed samurai bimbo Yuzuriha, who is more interested in taking selfies with her smart phone than she is in beating up bad guys. Her capri jeans and strappy heels are a wonderfully tacky complement to her dismissive personality and adolescent vanity. Normally, a serious character like Linne would be my favorite, but she doesn't seem to hold any appeal to me for some reason. Nanase is also a strong and attractive character, but she's the biggest dingbat of all and her story is about getting revenge against Hyde for "defiling her body" and turning her into an In-birth. It's all played out in typical anime sit-com fashion as a huge misunderstanding, and while it's pretty funny at first, it becomes overbearing after a while. Hilda's story is unique in that every battle has a story element, which is a nice touch. The male characters are as annoying as expected, although they're worth playing because they shed more light on the story and the various relationships between the characters. While most of the characters are fairly well balanced, Hyde is significantly overpowered, which puts him at a distinct advantage. It's also worth noting that arcade mode doesn't feature any mirror matches, which I really appreciate. It's little details like this that make "Under Night" such a compelling and rewarding experience.
The presentation looks great and the character designs are colorful and attractive. The character animations are smooth and the 3D stages are quite pretty for the most part. The fighting mechanics are excellent and the controls are tight and responsive. Each character has the standard weak, medium, and strong attacks, along with unique combos and special attacks. Similar to the "Melty Blood" games, the easy setting offers very little challenge and is an excellent way to hone your skills and experience all of the story elements. The game offers several modes including arcade, versus, online, survival, time attack, training, and replay. Production art and custom color palettes can be unlocked with in-game currency if you want to change your favorite character's appearance. Overall, "Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late" is an excellent anime styled fighting game for players of all skill levels. There's enough depth, strategy, and high precision to satisfy hardcore enthusiasts, while the core mechanics are simple enough for beginners to grasp. Like all great fighting games, it embraces the design philosophy of "easy to learn, difficult to master" while establishing a unique personality and maintaining a good sense of fun.